The Modern Apprentice: Falconry terms
Aba A cloth wrap that immobilizes a bird to calm her or hold her for examination.
Aerie A raptor’s nesting place, usually high up such as on a cliff.
Alula Three small, stiff feathers control the flow of air over the wing during flight.
Anklets The leather strap which goes around the bird’s leg. The jesses are attached to this. Sometimes also called a bracelet.
Austringer A person who flies short-wing or broad-wing hawks, also called a Shortwinger and sometimes (mostly in jest) “dirt hawker”.
Aylmeri Leather anklets and jesses designed by the late Guy Aylmeri; replacement for traditional jesses.
Bal Chatri A traditional trap used by many raptor banders, rehabilitators, and falconers commonly called a BC. This is one of the safest and simplest traps available. It is a small cage for bait keeping them separate from an attacking bird, then small monofilament nooses over the top that will ensnare the toes.
Band A plastic or metal identification ring that goes around the bird’s leg. Some states require certain wild taken species to be banded, other states require all wild taken birds to be banded, and other states have no such requirements, however most states require captive bred birds to be banded.
Bate The action of the bird attempting to fly from a perch or the fist while attached by a leash. The bird may be startled and wanting to leave, may have seen something attractive and curious to fly to it, or may be impatient to be flying or hunting.
Bathe Getting into a bathpan and soaking her feathers. It is an important part of raptor husbandry to encourage a good soaking.
Beak The keratin covering of the mouth protecting the tongue and mouth opening.
Bechin A small tidbit of food.
Bells Exactly that: small bells attached to the bird’s tarsus, tail, or around the neck. The benefit of this is to be able to hear the bird when she is in trees hidden by leaves or on the ground on quarry hidden by brush.
Bewit Small strips of leather which attach the bells or other hardware to the bird’s leg. If a different material is used as a bewit, it should not be attached directly to the leg, but rather to the anklet. A cable tie is a great convenience, but must never be attached around the bird’s leg.
Bind To grab and hold; a bird can bind to quarry, a lure, or the falconer’s hand.
Block perch The traditional perch for a falcon.
Blood feathers Feathers which still are still growing and have blood supplied through the shaft.
Bloom The healthy sheen to the feathers indicating proper nutrition, management, and waterproofing.
Bob Up-and-down head movement showing interest; thought to be for judging distance to an object.
Bow net A trap that, when set, looks like a circle laying on the ground. When the bird comes in to investigate the bait, the trap is sprung causing the circle to release over the bird creating a semi-circle and a bag of net over the now trapped bird.
Bow perch The traditional perch for a hawk.
Bowse To drink.
Braces Leather straps on the hood which open and close it.
Brail A leather thong used to restrain one wing on a bird to prevent it from bating, especially during manning.
Brancher An immature bird who can only jump from branch to branch; has developed pin feathers but has not flown.
Break in To tear into the catch and begin eating.Button The folded section of leather that acts as a stopper for the jesses against the anklet, or the braided end of a leash. This may also be called a knurl.
Cadge A frame serving as a perch used to carry several birds at once.
Cast There are several definitions of the word “cast”. In bird behavior cast means to bring up the indigestible pieces of a meal, often in the morning or before becoming more active. The casting is a round or oblong wad of feathers, fur, and bones which are left after the nutritious parts of a meal are digested. The act of casting can sometimes appear to be concerning to those who are not used to it. The bird extends her neck, arches it, wrenches it down, may shake her head violently and appear to vomit. Birds who successfully bring up a casting and settle back down are only exhibiting healthy, normal behavior.
Cast can also mean to hold a bird down for examination, as in the phrase “We cast the bird to cope her.” The meaning here is that the bird was held down so that her beak could be trimmed and shaped.
Cast may also mean a group of birds (typically Harris’ Hawks) flown and hunted together like a pack.
Cast away To vomit the contents of the stomach and crop. Rarely used term.
Cast off With the bird on the fist, this is the action of pushing it to be airborne.
Casting The lump of indigestible fur, bone, and other material that a bird casts up. This is usually called a pellet in owls.
Cere The smooth, featherless skin just above the beak where it attaches to the forehead. Also called the operculum.
Chaps Chaps are leg protectors for a bird, primarily used when hunting squirrels as the squirrel teeth can severely damage a bird’s leg or toe.
Choanal slit The slit in the roof of the mouth which connects to the bird’s sinuses.
Cloaca The external opening to expel fecal matter. In birds there is a single opening for intestinal (fecal matter), urinal (urine and urates), and genital tracts.
Commissure The delicate corner of the mouth, also called the commissural point.
Coping To re-shape the bird’s beak into its optimal form; to trim the growth and shape it up.
Coverts Row of feathers which run down the wing above the primaries and secondaries. This is the generally referred to feathers when somebody says “coverts”. There are other covert feathers over the body such as those on the tail and over the alulas.
Crab To fight or tussle over a catch; two birds of a cast may crab each trying to gain control and break in to the catch.
Creance A long line or cord attached to the bird while training. Ten yards is going to work for most situations, but for free flights to verify that your bird is ready to be taken from the creance, many recommend 50 yards in length.
Crines The short hair-like feathers around the cere and beak.
Crop The crop of the bird is like a pouch along the esophagus. It is where food is initially placed before it moves into the stomach. Food comes here for quick storage and to soften it and to separate out the digestibles from the indigestibles. It is useful to note that owls have no crop.
Crouch The action of lowering the body and extending the wings slightly in anticipation of leaping into flight.
Crural The feathers that cover the leg from the upper leg to the abdomen. In some species the crural feathers cover the leg to the top of the foot.
Deck The two center tail feathers in the train.
Dho-gazza A trap consisting of a net suspended between a bird and bait. The bird flies into the net and the net collapses around the bird entangling her. This can be more stressful than some other traps as the bird must be sorted out from the netting.
Draw the braces To pull the braces of a hood such that they tighten and close.
Ear Raptors have ears placed on each side of their head, although there is virtually no external structure to it.
Enseam To bring a hawk out of her moult by nutritional management, weight management, and exercise, sometimes also called reclaim when there is manning to be done after the moult as well.
Enter To introduce a bird to a particular quarry while hunting with her falconer. The bird may well have taken particular game while in the wild, but she is still entered when she first experiences this with her handler.
Eyass A downy baby raptor; no pin feathers started. This can also refer to a bird taken from a nest as a downy chick.
Feak The action of rubbing the beak against a surface to clean it; sign of content bird.
Fledgling An immature bird who has flown at least once, but is still not in control and under the care of adult birds.
Foot To grab something with the foot and talons; this action is done to a lure or quarry to subdue or kill it.
Free loft A management technique where the bird is allowed the full roam of her mews without being tethered. Some birds do not acclimate to this well and some situations are not set up for this to be safe.
Fret marks A line across feathers created when a bird is starved or diseased while she was growing the feather. Also called stress marks, stress bars, shock marks, hunger streaks, or hunger traces.
Full summed Referring to the end of the moult when a bird has grown in the full set of the new feathers.
Gape Referring to the breadth of the bird’s mouth opening from corner to corner. Sometimes people use this term to mean the opening of the mouth in general, but it specifically is referring to the opening across the delicate corners of the mouth, the gap. Often used with comments about how a particular hood is fitting.
Gauntlet The glove worn by the falconer, traditionally on the left hand.
Glottis The valve at the base of the tongue that closes the trachea to food or liquid.
Gorge To fully feed a bird as much as she wants to eat in a meal, typically as a reward for a significant effort or forward step in training.
Hack To allow a bird complete freedom to come and go as she pleases, however usually the falconer still provides food and shelter. This is most typically done with immature birds who are being raised without imprinting. The falconer will then capture these birds just before they would take off for migration or to hunt on their own. Hacking is also done when transitioning birds back into the wild as a soft release. It may also be done with birds during the summer months when the falconer has, for all intents and purposes, released a bird to the wild, but the bird continues to return on her own. It serves as a soft-release.
Haggard A wild bird in her adult plumage over one year old.
Hallux The toe which faces backwards on most raptors. In hawks, this is the talon most responsible for puncturing the vitals of prey. Technically, this is labeled toe #1. The innermost forward toe is toe #2, the next toe outside of that is toe #3 and the furthest front-facing toe is toe #4. With regards to the feet, most raptors have three toes facing forwards and one toe facing backwards. This conformation is called Anisodactyl. Some birds, such as owls, have two toes facing forwards and two facing backwards. This conformation is called Zygodactyl. And then the Osprey has the unique ability to swivel her third toe to be in either conformation.
Halsband The German term for a strap of leather looped around the bird’s neck and then hung down to help propel the bird (mainly Accipiters). Also called a jangoli. Here it is pictured with an accompanying neck bell. Photo courtesy of Kory Koch.
Hard penned Referring to the shaft of the feather after the blood supply has rescinded. While the feather is growing the base of the feather shaft is blue from the blood supply. Once the feather has hardened and the base turned white, the blood supply is no longer flowing to the feather and the bird is referred to as hard penned.
Hawk Box The ventilated box used to contain a bird for travel, also called a giant hood.
Hood The leather head covering used on hawks and falcons. The purpose of the hood is to hide the stimulus of the world from the bird’s sight to calm her or prevent her from reacting to things.
Haggard An adult wild bird, or a wild bird who is more than 12 months old and carries the mature plumage.
Imp Cutting a broken or damaged feather and replacing it with an undamaged feather. Imping usually involves cutting the shaft of the bird’s broken feather, trimming a feather that the falconer has on hand to the right length, and the gluing the shaft of the replacement feather to the shaft of the broken feather on the bird.
Imprint A bird raised by humans and not by other raptors; the bird will also tend to identify with humans, but this is a long and complex topic.
Intermew To moult a bird in captivity. A three times intermewed bird is one who has spent three moult seasons in captivity.
Jangoli A strap of leather looped around the bird’s neck and then hung down to help propel the bird (mainly Accipiters). Also called a halsband. Here it is pictured with an accompanying neck bell. Photo courtesy of Kory Koch.
Jerkin A male Gyrfalcon.
Jess Traditionally, these are leather strips which go through the anklets so the falconer can hold the bird and attach the leash. Modern jesses are of many types of material including parachute cord and various braids.
Jess Extender This piece of furniture has two functions. First, it requires dexterity to slide the swivel up the jesses and then back through. The jess extender can make this easier, especially for those less deft. Second, the jess extender extends the swivel away from the bird. With a perch such as the Meng perch, a bate will cause the swivel to pass through the tail and damage it. However, if there is a jess extender long enough that the swivel is not allowed to pass through the tail, then the tail will be saved. Extending the swivel beyond the tail tip by 1″ or 1.5″ is far enough.
Jokin (UK) Sleeping. Adult birds can sleep simply standing, but they typically tuck their heads beneath a wing appearing headless at first glance.
Keel The large bone running vertically up the bird’s breast; the sternum. This is the site of the breast muscle’s attachment and is a very important bone. The term feel the keel means to put the keel between your thumb and finger and judge the amount of fat and muscle along the sides of this ridge. A healthy, well muscled bird will have a dense padding along the sides and barely any ridge of the bone to be felt. A bird who is in low condition will have a sharp ridge of bone sticking out with very little muscle or fat along side. A fat bird without a lot of muscle will be well padded, but not with dense muscle. A good falconer will regularly check the keel feeling the musculature and level of fat on the bird regularly. Because of the way that falcons are structured, they will tend to be better muscled than a comparable hawk. They depend on those muscles more than a hawk does and the muscles reflect that.
Knurl The leather buttons.
Lanneret A male Lanner Falcon.
Laying Down Some birds, when very relaxed, will actually lay down. This is more often seen in immature or imprint birds, but some birds who are very comfortable in captivity will develop this as well.
Leash Traditionally leather, this is what attaches the bird to the perch or falconer’s glove. Modern leashes have taken many forms and many materials are used.
Luggaret A male Luggar Falcon.
Lure A fake quarry used to train a bird. For training birds to feathered quarry, a feathered lure which looks like a bird is used, sometimes even mimicking the wing beats. For training to rabbits, birds such as Red-Tails are not terribly picky and will respond to almost anything they are trained to.
Mail The breast feathers.
Make in To carefully approach a bird on her kill.
Malar stripe The dark streak of feathers beneath a falcon’s eye. The biological theory for this is that, much like athletes putting blacking under their eyes to prevent glare, this also prevents glare from reflecting off their feathers. The picture here shows a Lanner with the dark streak. Also called the facial stripe or eye stripe.
Man To acclimate a bird to your presence. A bird is said to be “well manned” when she is comfortable around people and accepting of their presence.
Mandible The upper and lower jaw and the beak.
Mangalah A cuff used instead of a gauntlet in the Middle East. Sometimes also called a mankalah.
Mantle The action of stretching out the wings to hide food; there is a secondary meaning describing the action of stretching a wing and the same side leg out to one side of the body.
Mew The bird’s secure enclosure where she lives; the hawk house.
Microhawking Hawking with the smaller birds – Kestrels, Sharp-Shins, or Sparrowhawks. Very popular, especially for the suburban falconer without large fields or large spaces for mews facilities.
Molt In most raptors, this is an annual shedding of the feathers. A successful molt starts in spring or early summer, concludes in autumn, requires a bird to be healthy, and with proper nutrition to produce a new set of feathers.
Musket A male Sparrowhawk.
Mute Referring both to the fecal matter and to the act of defecating. To mute usually refers to falcons defecating where the material drops from the cloaca straight down, while slicing (or propelling the matter out of the cloaca) refers to hawks. The common term mute is often used as a general term for all. The dried white urates are also referred to as chalk or whitewash.
Nare The nasal opening is in the cere. In falcons this is a circular opening, and in all member of Accipitradae this is an oval.
Nictitating membrane The nictitating membrane is sometimes called the third eyelid or the “haw”. It is a thin, white membrane that can operate independently of the eyelid. The purpose is to have a form of protection over the eye while still retaining some amount of vision.
Pannel The stomach region (UK).
Passage A passage bird is one trapped from the wild before it was 12 months of age or, more simply, an immature wild bird. This term can also take on the meaning of referring to a bird as being of wild origin – a three times intermewed passage bird would be a bird that was trapped from the wild several years prior that has since been in captivity. She was wild but has been flown for several years as an adult bird.
Patagial The “arm pit” region.
Pendant feathers The feathers behind the thighs (UK).
Pitch Referring to the height that a falcon will achieve when they rise. From this height they will go into a stoop at prey or the lure.
Plumage Primarily this references a bird’s feathers, however this is also a traditional term for tirings from birds such as a pigeon wing.
Preen gland Formally called the uropygial gland, this is a gland at the base of the tail that produces oil important to proper feather and beak health as well as waterproofing. The bird spreads this oil over the feathers and body through preening actions.
Primaries The primaries provide the main forward thrust for flight. On the wing, these are the feathers most distal (located nearest to the tip; furthest from the center of the body). Also called beam feathers in the UK, flight feathers or phalangeal feathers.
Principals The longest two feathers on a hawk’s wing.
Put over The process of the bird moving the contents of her crop into her stomach; also called endew in the UK. A hawk has “put away her crop” when the crop contents have completely emptied into the stomach.
Pygostyle The tail bone that supports the tail muscles and feathers.
Quarry The game that you are hunting such as rabbit, pheasant, crow, or quail.
Rake away To pull out of a flight, particularly to pull out of a stoop.
Rangle Small, smooth stones ingested by a bird to help clean out her crop. Rangle both refers to the stones used and the action of feeding the stones.
Rectrices The paired tail feathers. There are, generally, 12 tail feathers in total. This is a term used in general biology, and not usually in falconry.
Remiges The primary and the secondary feathers are together called remiges.
Ring perch A perch made out of a circular piece of metal where the hawk stands on top.
Robin A male Hobby Falcon is called a Robin.
Rouse The action of a hawk erecting its feathers and then shaking them; part of grooming; a sign of a relaxed and content bird.
Rufter A British term for a trapping hood or a hood that’s not polished and precise, but versatile fitting many different birds.
Sakeret A male Saker falcon.
Sarcel British term for the outermost primary feather.
Scale A modern addition to falconry, but used by most modern falconers to ensure their bird’s health. Much like an athlete knows his nutritional intake and his varying weights, so the falconer carefully watches his bird’s condition. Large birds such as eagles do not need a finely graduated scale. Smaller birds such as a Kestrel need a scale which can weigh out to the tenth of a gram, and smaller birds need to be weighed several times a day. Some falconers prefer manual balances and others prefer digital scales. A kitchen quality scale will not be precise enough for this task, though. A spring-loaded scale (like a food scale or a cheap postal scale) will vary with temperature and age. Most falconers will apply Astroturf, cork, or another comfortable surface to the balance pan for the bird to stand on. Others place a short T-perch onto the pan for the bird. Almost every species of bird should be weighed in grams (not ounces or pounds) so that you get the most granular measurement of your bird’s weight.
Screen perch A perch made of a vertical wall or screen topped by a bar for the bird to stand on.
Secondaries The feathers most proximal (just inside from the primary feathers; closer to the center of the body) on the wing are the largest surface area of the wing. Also called flags in the UK.
Sharp Referring to the feel of the keel. A bird is sharp if the padding of fat and muscle on either side of the keel is recessed leaving the edge of the bone easily felt. This can also be used to refer to a bird’s mindset and that she is acting sharp even though her physical condition does not match.
Slice The throwing of a mute as what Accipiters, hawks, and eagles do forcibly ejecting the material. Falcons mute straight down while the other raptors fling their fecal matter out with a bit of velocity.
Slip The term for the quarry setup whereby it is in a position to be caught, usually referencing birds to be caught such as ducks or crows, giving the bird an opportunity for a flight at the prey.
Snite To sneeze
St. Hubert The patron saint of falconry and falconers.
Stoop The act of a bird (usually a falcon) flying high in the sky folding her wings back and dropping quickly at a bird or the lure; stooping also is used to describe lure flying where the bird is stooped to the lure making repeated shots at a lure.
Strike There are several meanings for the work strike. The obvious meaning is for the bird to hit its prey. The other, and more common meaning in falconry, is to loosen the braces of the hood and pull the hood off the bird’s head. This is striking the braces.
Superciliary Line The line of feathers above the eye similar to the eye brow.
Supraorbital ridge The ridge just above the eye; the brow bone. Immature birds are frequently not seen with a developed supraorbital ridge.
Swivel Small metal joint used in between the leash and the jesses. When these birds are on the perch, they make many small movements turning around and such. Without the swivel they would very quickly become entangled and endanger themselves.
Tail guard The feathers of an Accipiter are notoriously brittle. To prevent unnecessary tail breakage, a cover is placed over the tail or many of these birds.
Talon A raptor’s toe nail.
Tarsus The leg between the foot and first joint where an anklet will go around.
Telemetry Modern evolution of bells. A small transmitter is attached to the bird and the falconer has a receiver tuned to the bird’s frequency. If the bird is unable to be found, the telemetry is used to locate her. This is one of the most revolutionary changes for modern falconry allowing falconers to fly the same bird for a longer period of time without her being lost, allows other falconers with receivers to assist in finding a lost bird, and allows the falcon to be flown at higher weights then ever before.
Throw Up To pull out of a stoop and rise at a steep pitch on fixed wings without flapping, usually after missing an intended strike or to avoid an accident.
Tidbit A small piece of meat to feed the bird. Tidbits can be as small as 60 per ounce of food. This is also called bechins in the UK.
Tiercel A male raptor, although technically this applies to a male Peregrine Falcon in particular.
Tiring Tough piece of meat and bone that will keep a bird occupied for a long period of time. This usually also has the quality of conditioning the beak and exercising the neck and back muscles, although not necessarily. A chicken or pigeon wing removed at the shoulder, a rabbit or duck head, or a rabbit foreleg with much of the meat removed, make an excellent tirings as they have very little meat distributed over a large surface making it difficult to get ahold of the edible parts. The bird will work and work on a tiring for a period of time. In absolute correct terms, a tiring is from a mammal, such as a rabbit foreleg, and a plumage is from a bird, such as a pigeon wing.
Tomial tooth The tooth (and often referencing the corresponding notch) in a falcon’s beak specialized for snapping the neck of their prey. Sometimes just called the notch.
Trachea The tube at the back of the bird’s tongue which leads to the lungs.
Train The 12 tail feathers. Formally called the retrices (singular retrix).
Turk’s head knot The knot used at the top of a hood. The primary function is to give the hood a solid handle to manipulate it, but it has also become decorative. Typically two knots are used together or a knot and a bead. More decorative versions include feathers or plumes.
Varvel A less used piece of equipment. This flat silver or brass ring served several purposes. It was attached at the end of a long slitless jess as the attachment for the leash, but also served as the quick release mechanism when hunting. (A single strip of leather or rope could be attached to the glove, passed through the rings, and held by the falconer. When the falconer cast the bird from the fist the strip would be released allowing it to pass through the varvels and the hawk to be released.) It was usually engraved with the owner’s coat of arms. These have almost all been abandoned as they tend to tangle in brush and grasses.
Vent The external surface of the cloaca. Birds are unique in that their fecal and urates come from a single outlet which is the cloaca. The fecal is the dark portion and is the stool. The urate is the white solid portion. The liquid clear-ish is the liquid urine.
Wait on To soar either circling or hanging on the wind above the falconer waiting for quarry. The bird will then stoop at the quarry.
Wake One process of manning whereby a bird is exposed to all types of experiences while kept awake for an extended amount of time.
Warble The action of stretching both wings up over the back simultaneously.
Washed meat Meat that has been set to soak in cold water to pull much of the nutrients from the meat. The advantage is that a bird can be fed very large amounts without gaining much weight by ingesting fat and calories, similar to eating reduced-fat or low-calorie foods.
Weather To put a bird out into the open air and sometimes sunshine. This is generally done in a weathering yard where she is protected from any other raptors, dogs, or cats, has the opportunity to bathe or drink, and can spread her wings and soak up the sun or pull up her foot in the shade. Her weathering yard is typically watched by the falconer whenever she is there.
Wing butts The forward angled section of the wing – analogous to our wrist.
Wing over To change direction flipping over in mid-flight, often when chasing quarry that has changed direction.
Yagi The hand-held antenna receiver portion of telemetry.
Yarak A state of complete focus on the hunt, usually referring to Accipiters. An Eastern term referencing when the bird’s training, weight, and mental focus all comes together in the field. The hawk is riding the fist in anticipation of the hunt and is ready to go.